The NBA will temporarily shift its focus from free agency to the Las Vegas Summer League for the next two weeks. The Trail Blazers will field a youthful team featuring seven first-round picks. The exhibition games in Las Vegas will also provide fans with their first look at Portland’s 2018 NBA Draft selections. Both Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr will be featured on the Blazers’ summer squad.
To get ready for the upcoming action, Brian Freeman and Steve Dewald discussed what they are watching for in Las Vegas.
Needless to say, fans in Portland have been less than thrilled with the Blazers’ activity (or lack of) in free agency. Is there a storyline that can emerge from summer league that can help ease the frustration?
Steve Dewald: Ed Davis’ departure to Brooklyn stings, but a solid showing from Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan could ease the heartache. Collins struggled in his brief run in Las Vegas last year, but he is primed to flourish this year. Of all the experienced players on Portland’s roster, Collins was the only one to play meaningful minutes for the Blazers last year.
Swanigan dominated in the paint for long stretches last year, and I expect him to be just as dominant in 2018. A lot of nerves will be calmed If the second-year duo effectively controls the paint against summer league competition.
Brian Freeman: The Blazers regular season roster is shallow as far as potential player improvement from last year. The only hope for a substantial jump is Zach Collins. Last year in summer league it was clear Collins had the skill just was not ready physically. After getting a full NBA season under his belt, he should be ready to make the jump to only leading the Blazers summer league team, but hopefully he will evolve into one the better players in Vegas this summer.
What are you hoping to see from Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr?
Brian: Simons was a question mark entering the combine but he proved he could hold his own against fellow NBA rookies. For Simons, it’s all about finding success against higher competition. At the combine, he was disruptive defensively, was confident with his jumper, and was tough for an single defender to hold. Summer league competition is a step above the combine so I am hoping to see that same level of success, or something close.
Trent is a shooter and a competitor, I’m not worried about that from him. But I’d like to see him take defenders off the dribble and create, or create havoc defensively. I just want to come away from Vegas thinking Trent has something in his game that makes him more than just a shooter.
Steve: The level of competition that Simons has played up to this point has been a serious road block for evaluating his NBA potential. By the end of the Blazers’ stint in Las Vegas we should have a better feel for his upside and timeline. Big picture aside, I’m interested to see how much time Simons gets at point guard.
Trent appears to be ready to make a statement to the teams that passed on him in the first round. I viewed the former Duke guard as a NBA-ready shooter prior to the draft, and I’m hoping that prediction holds up.
Wade Baldwin and Georgios Papagiannis will be trying to earn a guaranteed contract from the Blazers in Las Vegas, but is there another underdog on the roster that you feel has a chance to claim a roster spot?
Steve: Portland has added a handful of guards to its roster so far this summer, which could open the door for a frontcourt player. MiKyle McIntosh does a little bit of everything, and could claim a two-way contract from the Blazers if he looks the part in Las Vegas. McIntosh has the right blend of shooting and hustle that shines in summer league. After playing at University of Oregon last season, McIntosh might not have to move far for his next basketball destination.
Brian: K.J McDaniels and Archie Goodwin have player profiles that could help out the Blazers this season but both have failed multiple times trying to land with NBA teams. I’m losing confidence in them at this point. Jake Layman however, a bit surprisingly, had his option picked up this summer. We have yet to see much on an NBA court from Layman, but he looked solid in summer league last year and must have done enough in practices to warrant another ticket this season. He must have more in the tank, I’d like to see it.
Outside of the players on Portland’s roster, who are you looking forward to watching at summer league?
Brian: I am facinated by Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks. He dominated the ACB, the second best league in the world, as an 18 year old. No one does that. I cant wait to watch him play as I imagine him a few steps ahead of anyone else out on the court.
Steve: I’ve been a fan of Collin Sexton’s game ever since I watched him up close at Nike Hoop Summit in 2017. The former Alabama guard plays with a ton of swagger and is capable of torching slow-footed defenders. Things might be bleak in Cleveland after LeBron James left town, but Sexton will provide the Cavaliers with a glimmer of hope.
The Trail Blazers begin their 2018 Las Vegas Summer League schedule against the Utah Jazz on Saturday.
To get instant reactions from inside the arena, be sure to follow Brian (@BrianFreeman24) and Steve (@SteveDHoops) on Twitter.